Lessons in Leadership: Becoming friends to a stranger

28 Jul 2021

Reflections by Kevin Kettlewell


Recently completing a long-term ministry role at Callala Bay Community Church on the NSW South Coast, Kevin Kettlewell reflects on the importance of hospitality to others as we face the decline in Sunday service attendance.

What we have become used to in Australian Christian churches is one or several services each Sunday. Whilst the type of songs may vary, there is a pattern consisting of singing, the Lord’s supper and a sermon followed by some sharing, often around something to eat. This has served Christians well for a long time. The Church in the west carried a prominent place, but things have changed, numbers have declined, and the young (under 40) are even fewer. Most church attendees are over 60. This raises the question, what is the way forward?

To go forward perhaps we need to look back!

Pentecost began with 120 people meeting together and praying. Within less than 100 years, the Gospel had spread throughout the Middle East, up into Europe, down into Africa and as far as India. Thousands came into God’s family, and this without church buildings and under a lot of persecution and internal disputes. What was their method? How did Jesus our Lord go about his mission on earth, described in Luke 4:18-19:

 “The Spirit of the LORD is upon me,

    for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released,

    that the blind will see,

that the oppressed will be set free,

    and that the time of the LORD’s favour has come.” (NLT)

As Jesus ascended into heaven, he passed this task on to his disciples; then, through the centuries, it has been passed onto us – the Church, His body. This is our commission. Each person who claims Jesus as Lord is called to complete the Father’s will.

The Gospels show us the way Jesus approached his Father’s will. He preached to the crowds, drew aside his followers and taught them, showed compassion in healing and was comfortable with the despised and the outcast. 

It would seem that Jesus often used hospitality as a preferred way of reaching people; he ate with the rich and influential, he ate with the poor and despised. Jesus instituted the Lord’s supper (a meal) that we might remember him. 

From what we understand about the Early Church, they were given to hospitality, and it seems to be how it spread through each community they found themselves part of. 

This, I believe, is the way the Good News will reach our neighbourhood in the 21st century.

The Greek word ‘Philoxenia’ literally translates as “friend to a stranger” and is widely perceived as synonymous with hospitality. For the Greek culture, it is much deeper than that. It is an unspoken cultural law that shows generosity and courtesy to strangers.

Philoxenia today can be as simple as a smile, helping a stranded motorist, buying a meal for a homeless person, or opening your home to friends and family.

Evangelism can be a slow process, and those in our community are often suspicious of anything Christian.

For a church to grow, it requires those within to expect and delight in the fact it will get messy. This creates within many a desire to have everything orderly and predictable, as those who are different also need to feel accepted. Some accommodation for these differences will be required to allow them to grow into Christ.

As we show kindness, hospitality and welcome inclusivity, we are living as spiritual representatives for our Lord. This, in turn, allows the Holy Spirit to counter the prevailing culture within our community and potentially may lead to transformation, not only for those we minister to but within our own personalities. Growing more Christlike each day.